He was born to strict Catholic parents in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1882 and was expected, at age 13, work in a shoe factory for 10 cents a day. At that point, Rudolf E. Pigeon did what most people only dream of doing: he ran away and joined the circus.
Pigeon began as a member of the Menard troupe of acrobats, traveling the East Coast with the Haggenback Wallace Circus. In 1906, he moved out West and joined the Sells-Floto Circus, owned by Frederick Bonfils and Harry H. Tammen, co-owners of the Denver Post. Known professionally as Shorty Maynard, Pigeon frequently worked with animals, riding atop a mule’s head and also hanging on to its tail to be dragged around the sawdust ring several times. Another audience favorite was Bill, the Trained Goose who performed tricks with Shorty for 14 seasons. Other acts featured trained roosters and acrobatic stunts.
By 1922, Pigeon had married. When he and wife Ada started a family, the travel and hardships of circus life proved exhausting, so Pigeon retired in 1923 after nearly 30 years in the big top. He first moved his family to Sterling to operate John’s Pool Hall, which became a casualty of the farm recession after World War I. Pigeon then moved his wife and daughter Carol to Globeville and sought out his old friend Harry Tammen, who arranged a position with Swift & Company, where Pigeon worked for more than twenty years.
Daughter Carol Christenson recalls, “I remember my dad walking across that bridge at 46th Avenue every morning at 5 a.m. to go to work in the packinghouse. He didn’t make much money, but we always paid our bills on time.”
The man who had traveled the country making people laugh lived quietly with his wife, daughters, Carol and Florence, and son Charles at 4801 Grant St. He died in August 1950 of heart failure and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Denver.
Rudolf E. Pigeon in his garden in Globeville. Pigeon is buried at Riverside Cemetery in block 13, about 18 paces north of the Archer monument. The small dark gray marker features a picture of a clown.
Photo courtesy of Carol Christenson